Brought together by coincidence, Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente have bonded to help each other rise to the level of greatness their fathers once enjoyed.
Saddled with names that conjure up images of baseball greatness - and tragedy - both are trying to rise above Class AA status in the Baltimore Orioles' organization. They have decided to work at it together.Imagine, Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente alone on the diamond, taking batting practice long after the rest of their teammates have left. The irony is not lost on either of them.
"It's sort of strange, that at Hagerstown they've got Pete Rose Jr. and Roberto Clemente Jr.," Rose said. "I can tell this year is going to be interesting already."
It is a friendship that was inevitable. With so much in common - not all of it good - was there any way they couldn't become pals?
"It's a very good chemistry between us," the 24-year-old Clemente said. "I feel like I've known him a long time. I guess it's the thing with our fathers, but it goes beyond that. It just sort of happened."
Clemente has never gotten over the death of his father, who died on Dec. 31, 1972 in a plane crash as he was taking supplies to earthquake-striken Nicaragua. Roberto Jr. was only six years old at the time.
"I feel cheated," he said. "Everything that's going on with my life would have been different if he were alive."
There was also some guilt. Before the ill-fated flight, young Roberto went up to his mother and told her the plane was not going to make it to Nicaragua.
Roberto Sr. was sitting a few feet away when the little boy said, "Tell him not to go because the plane's going to crash."
Much to the child's horror, he was right.
"It came out just like that, and I really felt it," he said. "It was a very scary thing for me."
Young Roberto's life as a baseball player has not parelled that of his father. Dad got 3,000 hits in 18 years of major-league ball, and his son has yet to step to the plate in the big leagues.
He played three years of pro ball from 1984-86 until he injured his knee. He sat out four years until the Orioles decided to give him a try this season. He's an outfielder, just like Dad, but he doesn't want his father's No. 21.
"I used to wear 21 as a kid, but I understand now what a player has to do to make his number," he said. "He made No. 21, and I want to make my own number."
Pete Rose Jr. doesn't think that way. He wears No. 14 on his back and on his chest hangs a pendant with the same number, a gift from his father.
"I wore 21 my first year and I did terrible, batted .179," "Then I wore 14 at Erie and hit .276. I'm going to keep No. 14 in the family."
Rose loves his Dad, and he said he will name his first son Pete. But for the past two years it was very painful to have the name Pete Rose, because his father was in the news every day.
The subject matter had nothing to do with the elder Rose's 4,256 hits or his .303 lifetime average. Pete Rose Sr. was labled a gambler, and was ultimately banned from baseball.
The effect it had on his son was profound. Things have calmed down so that he can now talk about it, but it will not go away. Never will.
"It's never going to be over," Rose said. "But not seeing him in the paper and in the news every day, that's going to help a lot. I figure if I made it through these past two years, that's the biggest obstacle I'll ever face."
That is the only nugget of goodness that the younger Rose got out of the whole affair.
"It's made me mentally tougher. I've heard 10,000 people chanting `I-R-S' and stuff like that," he said. "I went up there and got a base hit and it sort of shut them up.
"It's been a disadvantage, but also it's helped me a lot because it's made me a better man. But I wish it wouldn't have happened."